Authors: Deborah Nam-Krane
Tags: #college boston new adult
The Smartest Girl In the Room
Book One of The New Pioneers
Smashwords Edition | Copyright © 2013 Deborah
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, and incidents either are the product of the author's
imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual
persons, living or dead or undead, events, or locales is entirely
To Liseli Mulala, who makes everything better.
Emily closed her book and stood up, yawning
as she did so. It was time to leave the library and meet her best
friend Zainab at Princess Cappuccino.
The café’s owners were indebted to Zainab
Oginabe-Kensit. Not too many guys were tempted to go into something
called "Princess" anything at first. But within one month of
Zainab’s discovery of the little café it was filled with men. While
not all of them were friends of hers, many of them were
friends-of-friends-of-friends. Every small business grows by word
of mouth, but Zainab’s was the first mouth.
So Zainab was often there, surrounded by
friends and acquaintances. She frequently reminded Emily that
meeting new people was an important part of the college experience.
"So is studying," Emily would always reply.
Emily believed in studying like it was a
religion. The first year of college she was content to divide her
time between classes, the library and her room at her mother’s
house. All places that were conducive to making sure her work was
done on time and done well. That strategy had earned her a very
good grade point average despite her ambitious workload.
Now Emily was out of class and out of her
room, and that was because of Zainab. She had a way of making Emily
feel like she didn’t have to assume the worst about people (well,
not everyone). It was nice to look at the world with a smile. But
Emily thought she should repay the favor by making sure Zainab
spent less time in cafés- and bars.
She tried not to criticize Zainab every time
she disapproved. She couldn’t be sure her initial reaction wasn’t
concern but jealousy. Zainab could go out, party and still do well
enough in her classes. Her parents were still going to pay for
school and her apartment in Brookline no matter what. And if she
failed? Zainab would still be taken care of. She, however, had to
get through not four but five classes per quarter. Her mother had
made it clear she wanted to leave her job at the university. So
Emily didn’t even have time for a job. Even with her savings she
could barely afford to have tea with Zainab a few times per week.
Emily was grateful that coffee, which she despised, was always more
expensive than her tea. She sighed. Who was she to tell Zainab not
to do what she couldn’t? She wrinkled her nose. Actually, Emily
hated the taste of alcohol anyway so it was good that she couldn’t
afford to go out often.
Emily had just thrown her scarf around her
neck when someone tapped her shoulder. "Oh!" When she turned around
there was Drew Strand. He was a cute, tall, blonde from Comparative
"Heading out?" He asked holding his books in
one arm and his half-empty bag on the other shoulder. It seemed
almost as if he’d rushed to pick up his stuff.
"Uh, yeah. Just going to grab some decaf
She hugged her bag closer. "Princess
Cappuccino, of course," she replied, trying to be friendly while
hoping the gods of any persuasion were watching out for her.
"Anything good there?" He asked. It seemed
that tonight the gods were on a break.
"You’ve never been?" Emily asked. Zainab
would protect her. "What’s your poison of choice?"
"Considering my first class is at eight
tomorrow, I should take the decaf too."
"Brutal. To what do you owe the
"Poetry. And that’s not even as much fun as
"Are you an English major?"
"Actually, a Physics major with a minor in
English. How’s that for obscure?"
"Better than obtuse," Emily smirked.
"Hey, I may not be a Math major, but I do
know what you’re implying."
"Did I mention that I was a Math major?"
"First day of class; ‘Now class, tell
everyone why you came and where you’re from.’ Must be why you
thought I was an English major."
, Emily thought,
it’s the way you
keep going on about the most obscure and obtuse points of the text
with Professor Hazlett, like you’re trying to get a gold star from
the department head, that makes me think you’re an English
"Must be," she said. "Oh, here we are."
Emily waved to Zainab. Zainab, beautiful with
dark golden skin and wide, expressive eyes, waved back. She was in
the center of everything, as usual. "Hey, gorgeous!" Zainab called
as soon as Emily opened the glass door. "Shove over, everyone!"
The crowd rearranged themselves so Emily and
Drew could find a cramped seat. They put their bags down while
Emily quickly made introductions.
"What are you having?" Drew asked once they
were at the counter.
As broke as she always was, she still did not
want him buying her anything. Unfortunately she couldn’t find a
graceful exit. "Just some chamomile tea, thanks," she mumbled.
While Drew was ordering she turned around,
caught Zainab’s eye and mouthed "Help!" Zainab started laughing,
and Emily turned around quickly so she wouldn’t be noticed.
A few moments later, Zainab smiled when they
came to sit down. "So, how do you know Em?" Zainab asked Drew the
second they sat down.
"We both ended up in the same Comp. Lit.
class this semester, and she’s definitely the highlight. I’m afraid
whether Ann Boleyn was an evil schemer or a martyred mother doesn’t
hold my interest that much," said Drew.
Emily bit her lip. Comp. Lit. was her
favorite class so far, and she found the historical implications of
Ann Boleyn’s execution engrossing. Before she could say anything,
Drew asked, "And how do you two know each other?"
Emily and Zainab looked at each other.
"Student Government Council!" they burst out, then laughed.
"Am I missing a good joke?"
Zainab giggled. "Yes, but don’t worry, SGC
will take you anyway if you want to serve."
"Shut up, Senator Oginabe-Kensit! And when
are you quitting?"
"I told you, as soon as the Budget Review is
Emily grimaced. "The BRC: the stepping stone
of one Mister Joseph P. Welles." Joe Welles was the Vice President
of Student Affairs and oversaw the Budget Review Committee. It was
something of a tradition the VP of Student Affairs was the leading
candidate for President the next year. Emily didn’t really care
that Joe didn’t seem qualified to lead a class discussion, much
less a student government body; she was more irritated that Zainab
was so smitten with him.
Zainab cocked her head. "Yes, and what did
Giles Reichart like the SGC for?"
Emily blushed. "Touché, mon ami, but I left."
She noticed Drew sitting up straight. "Everything okay?"
"Uh, yeah. But did you say Budget Review
Committee?" Drew asked.
Zainab sighed. "What did we do now?"
Drew seemed to relax. "If I said I was the
Vice President of the Solar Car Club would that clear it up?"
Zainab put up her hands. "Don’t look at us.
We voted last year to increase your funding, but the administration
didn’t feel like you guys were ready for primetime. I think our
advisor also said it was a wash. Someone on the team was connected
enough to secure the funding themselves, but I don’t know."
Drew shifted in his chair a little bit. "They
don’t know what they're talking about but what a surprise at this
school. Last year we really improved..."
Emily did her best to stretch out small talk
with Drew. Innocently, she looked at the clock and noticed that it
was ten, about an hour before she was going to turn into a pumpkin.
Drew saw the look on her face and turned around. "Damn! Eight
o’clock class. I’d better go. Maybe I can stop in at the lab now
and develop a strategy to woo the administration."
"Now?" Emily asked as Drew stood up. "Isn’t
it hard to test a solar car at night?"
"These guys are true believers. I’m sure
they’d love to show off their work. Really, anytime you guys want
to see it, let me know."
"Sure, I’d love to." Emily was genuinely
interested- in the car.
"Cool. And thanks for letting me tag
"Thanks for joining us. Next Monday in
Professor Hazlett’s room?"
"I wait with baited breath," Drew
Emily blinked. "Yeah, well, Henry and Ann
have a way of doing that."
As soon as Drew was out of sight, Emily
pointed at Zainab. "You didn’t help."
Zainab couldn’t stop laughing. "I wanted to,
but it was too funny."
Emily narrowed her eyes. "As funny as SGC? Z,
how are you going to do that and school? From here? And what about
Zainab rolled her eyes. "Still a while before
"Uh huh. And Joe isn’t exerting more pressure
than he should be, is he?"
"I don’t know. Ask his girlfriend."
"Right, because he’s so faithful." Joe was
such smiley smarm, and she couldn't understand Zainab's crush.
"Jesus!" Zainab snapped. "For the last time,
I am not sleeping with Joe Welles!"
"That’s good to hear, he’s a clown!" Emily
turned around and found herself staring into the most gorgeous pair
of green eyes she had ever seen. Zooming out, she noticed dark,
thick, eyebrows, then the olive skin, high cheekbones and wavy
light brown hair. Not to mention the perfect teeth on full display
in a wide-open smile. "And why would someone as lovely as you be
worried about Zainab being with such a dork?" said the gorgeous
stranger in a nice deep voice.
Emily found her own voice after a moment.
"Got to watch out for my girl in that SGC cesspool."
"Should I be insulted before we’ve even been
introduced?" said the stranger.
"Emily, Mitch- Mitch, Emily," said Zainab.
Emily stuck out her hand and it was enveloped in Mitch’s warm,
"Pleased to meet you," Emily said and looked
at Zainab, then looked back at Mitch. "And how do you know VP
Mitch winked. "Apparently the same way you do
if you’re using that overblown title."
Emily shrugged. "’Popularity Contest Winner’
just doesn’t have the same ring to it."
The perfect teeth again. "But I like that.
Why don’t we shorten that to PCW so we’re all on the same page?"
"Agreed. So tell me, who are you in the
"Mitchell Graham, member-at-large, doing time
on the BRC."
"About two months ago."
"I must have just missed you."
"My loss," said Mitch.
Zainab cleared her throat. "Mitch, babe, why
don’t you get yourself a drink while Emily thinks of a
"Did you plan this?" Emily whispered as soon
as Mitch was out of earshot.
"I might have mentioned that he should meet
me here tonight, right about now, when I know you’re usually done
at the library," Zainab whispered back.
Emily looked down at the ground and laughed.
"Aren’t you thoughtful?"
Mitch returned and sat down next to Emily.
"So, what made you decide to leave the SGC?"
was a better use
of my time," Emily smirked.
" His eyes popped. "Oh my
God, no one told me this was one or the other!"
"You’re a Trekkie?" Emily gasped.
Zainab shook her head. "Em, the twenty-first
century word is ‘Trekker.’"
"Zainab, you too?" Mitch said excitedly. "How
come you never mentioned this?"
"It doesn’t usually come up in civilized
conversation. Besides, I’m not into
The Original Series
Kirk is such a womanizing caricature."
"Ugh!" Emily and Mitch both laughed at the
same time. "Okay, first of all," Mitch leaned forward, "can’t argue
with the womanizing, but he’s got some standout episodes. I mean,
‘City on the Edge of Forever’ chokes me up every time-"
"Well, yeah!" Emily nodded. "It’s one of the
few where he isn’t all ‘My ship!’"
"Exactly!" Mitch almost shouted. "And, I
don’t know about you, but I was always much more into Spock than I
Emily sighed and put her hand on her chest.
"Oh my God, Leonard Nimoy. Spock was the most perfect character
ever. Handsome, brilliant, tortured… what girl wouldn’t want to
rescue him from himself?"
Mitch grinned. "I had no idea dysfunction was
Emily blushed. "Anyway… are you a